Wednesday, November 29, 2006

North-East teachers' fury

Call to ban website

Some people just don't get this "new media" thing at all do they? A website which encourages pupils to leave comments on the abilities of their teachers has come under attack from teachers and teaching unions, it has been described as leading to plunging moral and even threats to quit the job.

Curly has been to have a look at this website and understands that pupils have a way of expressing themselves in what they see as a "threat free" environment, an adjunct to the democratic process, and something which perhaps could be looked at by Ofstead when they make their regular inspections. The site does try to redress the balance for those teachers who feel unfairly treated by some students comments and gives the option for teachers to have their own say. Additionally, of course, there is recourse to the law should contributors be found to be posting libellous remarks.

A number of schools in the North-East have taken steps to ensure that pupils cannot gain access to the site from computers within the school grounds, but cannot prevent them using the site from home

NUT Newcastle secretary Ian Grayson said the comments on RateMyTeachers were "totally inappropriate and distasteful" and damaging teachers' health.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has now launched an investigation into the problem. Thousands of pupils are rating North-East teachers on the website - and leaving scathing comments about them.

Teaching unions are now demanding pupils be stopped from leaving insulting remarks about teachers' alleged drinking, body odour and teaching ability. The site has 454,000 ratings for 95,000 teachers in the UK.

Whitley Bay High was the first of several schools to block access to the site - but now teachers' unions are demanding the website be banned permanently. The school's page has had 42,084 hits and 1,480 comments about its teachers.

Whitley Bay High headteacher Adam Chedburn said: "Staff find this individual singling out embarrassing and upsetting."

NAS/UWT North-East national executive member Mick Lyons said the issue was seriously affecting the lives of teachers.

He said: "This site should be banned. This is a sensitive issue for teachers.

"The abuse posted online can totally undermine teachers in the classroom."

NUT Newcastle secretary Ian Grayson said there had been a huge increase in the number of comments being posted.

He said: "They are inaccurate and unfair but sadly we are seeing more and more of them. I am aware of teachers being affected. This kind of thing has a detrimental effect on their health."

Professional Association of Teachers general secretary Philip Parkin said: "Posting comments about teachers on websites amounts to harassment and bullying."

Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said many teachers had considering quitting.

She said: "It is insidious, pernicious and totally unacceptable."

Of course in the "good old days" pupils would vent their frustrations by using felt tipped pens, chalks, and spray paints to mark their comments on the walls of the nearest public buildings, would some of our teaching unions prefer that we went back down this route? I don't think so!

The Newcastle Journal gives examples of some of the less than complimentary comments, which I don't intend to repeat here, but it is worth considering the comments from students in relation to the most recent Ofstead reports about their schools. I looked at some schools from South Tyneside and found it extremely difficult to find negative comments about the teachers, so perhaps this is a reflection of the overall standards of teaching being achieved in some schools, and a measure of the overall "culture" within the schools.

Here are some of the comments posted by pupils about their teachers from Harton School, which recently received an outstanding report from Ofstead:

"Great teacher, never ever met anyone with better maths brain than him."

"I think she is a fab teacher but she seems to think that she's better than everyone else and that don't look very good!"

" Put Space Invaders and a Battlezone in the gym block! Alas they were only there a couple of days after the Daily Mirror and Newsround found out about it, a true visionary ahead of his time"

"I heard she was scary but funny...I also heard she has a fantastic brother who also teaches up in Scotland; but he is funnier!"

"Sound teacher"

O.k., it's not earth shattering stuff, but certainly it gives the impression that the pupils are generally satisfied with the way that things are going in their school and reflects the hard work of the head teacher, his staff, and the governors in their efforts to continually improve educational standards. Perhaps if the teaching unions could encourage their members to contribute to the site and follow the example of our better schools they would find less to get excited about and more to look forward to. I found the comments about teachers in South Tyneside to be quite refreshing and encouraging, and they were probably posted by the more willing and gifted of our pupils, certainly a feather in the cap for our Lead Member for Lifelong Learning - now where's that other site "rate my councillor"?


The Journal

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